Chicopee laser company, 2 Springfield colleges to create research and education facility with $2.5 million state grant

CHICOPEE – A local business that specializes in creating and supplying high-tech lasers will partner with Westfield New England University to establish a research and development center and strengthen the school’s education program with the help of a $2.5 million state grant.

The project that will join Convergent Photonics with the university is the fourth of its kind statewide and the first in Western Massachusetts. Springfield Technical Community College will also be involved in the program.

“It is such an amazing project. I’m so glad they picked Chicopee for it,” Mayor John L. Vieau said. “This will give them an advanced labor force with skilled workers.”

The award was announced in a small event at the company’s headquarters on 117 East Main St. Mike Kennealy, state director of Housing and Economic Development, Western New England President Robert Johnson, State Reps. Joseph Wagner and Jose Tosado, company leaders and others attended. The money comes from the state’s Massachusetts Manufacturing Innovation Initiative.

The funding will allow the company and the university to purchase equipment so each can create a high-power semiconductor laser lab that will be used to support the development of innovative technologies and for the education of engineering students who want to go into the field of photonics. It will have a strong research component to it, officials said.

Our investments in advanced manufacturing are targeting immediate projects, such as the response to COVID-19, but also longer-term projects like the new (Lab for Education and Application Prototyping) in Chicopee,” Kennealy said. “This partnership between a growing company like Convergent and a tech-oriented university like Western New England will create the opportunity to build on that foundation and will take ongoing collaboration and training in this sector and across this region to the next level.”

Convergent Photonics, which has been operating since the 1960s, supplies high-power lasers used for multiple uses including for cutting and welding in the machine tool industry worldwide. The new lab will help the company develop high-powered equipment for medical systems and fiber lasers used as optical power supplies in data centers that are the backbone for telecommunications, surgical, and industrial applications, officials said.

“We are very glad and proud to be part of the … initiative which will reinforce the historical presence of Convergent Photonics in Western Massachusetts and foster the development of a new generation of engineers in integrated photonics which is one of the most important key enabling technologies the 21st Century,” said Paolo Sanna, the president of Convergent Photonics.

The entire project is expected to cost about $4.1 million. The company also investing funds in the collaboration.

“One of the issues is it is difficult to find engineers (who specialize in laser technology) at the masters and bachelor’s level,” said Neeraj Magotra, chairman of the department of electrical and computer engineering for Western New England. “STCC puts out a lot of good laser technicians.”

Western New England University, Springfield Technical Community College and Convergent Photonics have previously worked together to assist

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Laser technology used to measure biomass of giant Californian redwood trees

Oct. 15 (UPI) — For the first time, researchers have executed a three-dimensional survey of the world’s biggest trees, using laser technology to precisely measure the volume and biomass of Northern Californian redwoods.

Researchers detailed the feat in a new paper published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports.

California’s giant redwood trees play an outsized role in above ground carbon sequestration, and have a larger impact on their ecosystems than their more diminutive neighbors.

“They are also very hard to measure and so tend to be underrepresented in measurements and models of above ground biomass,” Mat Disney, professor of geography at University College London, said in a news release.

Researchers used ground-based lasers to measure the biomass of large coastal redwood trees, Sequoia sempervirens, at three forest sites in Northern California. Scientists hope the data will help them more precisely monitor the impacts of climate change on redwood forests.

“Big questions within climate science in response to rising CO2 levels are whether and where more trees should be planted and how best to conserve existing forests,” said Disney, lead author of the new study. “In order to answer these questions, scientists first need to understand how much carbon is stored in different tree species.”

Traditional means for measuring tree biomass require either cutting and weighing trees piece by piece or by scaling up manual measurements — methods ripe for error.

The latest survey allowed scientists to chance to test the laser system that will be deployed on NASA’s GEDI mission, an effort to map forest carbon from space.

The colossal 1,400-year-old redwood known as the Colonel Armstrong tree was among the trees scanned by the GEDI lasers. The tree measures 288 feet tall, more than 11 feet wide and weighs 110 tons.

When researchers compared the laser-based biomass measurements with those made via 3D crown mapping, a more involved, fine-scaled measuring method involving expert climbers, they found the data agreed to within 2 percent.

Scientists suggest future tree survey could combine selective 3D crown mapping efforts with laser-based measurements.

“Estimating the biomass of large trees is critical to quantifying their importance to the carbon cycle, particularly in Earth’s most carbon rich forests,” said co-author and NASA scientist Laura Duncanson.

“This exciting proof of concept study demonstrates the potential for using this new technology on giant trees — our next step will be to extend this application to a global scale in the hopes of improving GEDI’s biomass estimates in carbon dense forests around the world,” said Duncanson, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland.

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